ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED | AUTUMN 1961 | JUNIOR FARMER AND 4-H QUARTERLY
I believe the rural community is becoming extinct. Ontario is becoming a province of urbanites and semi-urbanites who are destroying the rural community. The urbanites are becoming more rural and the rural people are becoming more urban as they enjoy all the amenities of city living. Geographers and census-takers are finding it increasingly difficult to define the limits of metropolitan areas. They are becoming one big transitional zone, neither urban nor rural, sometimes referred to as “urban sprawl”.
In these areas the family farm is too small to support the city type standard of living and the family farm will disappear. Once it has been replaced by a big business, corporation type of farming, the last vestige of the rural agricultural community will have disappeared.
Now, let us consider what increasing urbanization is doing to the land and what effects, economic, sociological and political, it is having on rural communities.
Effects of the Urban Sprawl
The first effect of urban sprawl is the consumption of agricultural land. It is a myth that Canada has unlimited agricultural resources, for only three per cent of our land is arable and has a suitable climate for growing crops.
The Conservation Council of Ontario states that there are 20 million acres of agricultural land in Ontario and only 12 million are considered prime agricultural land. This means approximately 2 acres per person. The United Nations states that 2 ½ acres are required to feed the population. In our province, with our high meat consumption and desire for protective foods, we need even more. In other words, Ontario cannot feed its own population and has become a “have-not” area as far as food production is concerned.
Moreover, there are no new frontiers available. The last frontier was the switch from the horse to the tractor which freed millions of acres for food production. The clay belts of northern Ontario are not a practical, economical alternative, judging by the experience of Quebec Province in attempting to colonize the northern sections. Crop losses due to frost in the Clay Belt of Quebec are so frequent that the farm families could scarcely subsist if it were not for direct subsidization and work in the mines.
It is estimated that the world population will double within the next 35 or 40 years. Canada will be one of the last surplus food producers. If we continue to squander our best agricultural land, by the year 2000 we will be reduced to a nation of cereal eaters, since we will no longer be able to afford the luxury of feeding grain to livestock. We will have to change our entire living habits.
Agricultural Processing Industries
I would like to point out, too, that our agricultural processing industries are an important part of Canadian industrial activity. If we destroy our agricultural land, we will destroy our food processing industry as well.
Some people think technology is the answer. It is true that technology can increase crop production but, up to the present it has not been able to keep pace with increases in population and the increased demand for certain types of food.
Another solution is to import food. That is fine right now, but what will happen by the year 2000? From where will we import our food then? The fruit and vegetable processing industry which is based upon Niagara production alone, makes annual wage and salary payments of well over $5,000,000.
I am not suggesting that we limit our industrial expansion or urban growth, but that we must direct or control it. Today urbanization is ruining as much land as it consumes by its leapfrog growth. The Conservation Council of Ontario estimates that by the year 2000, 1 ½ million acres, or approximately one-quarter of prime agricultural land in Ontario, lost to agriculture.
Let us look at some of the effects of urban sprawl: (1) high land prices, good only for speculators, not for farmers; (2) farms divided into sub-economic units, too small for efficient operation; (3) high taxes because rural communities have to pay for all the services required by the influx of urban people; (4) land held idle by speculators or leased on a short-term basis and hence does not reach full productivity; (5) lack of incentive for capital improvements on the farm in the face of urban growth.
For these reasons, I think you will agree there is an urgent need for direction and control of urban growth. If this growth could take place in an orderly fashion, according to a rational plan, instead of the present haphazard development, there would be room for more people and we could still produce as much food. There is room in Canada for both a manufacturing and agricultural industry but only if regional land use planning comes in time.
What should our rural communities do?
Farmers, agriculturalists and other rural people can no longer afford to remain aloof from city folk. Artificial boundaries must be dissolved. Rural municipalities must either amalgamate and absorb the cities, perhaps making the county the supreme unit of municipal government; or at least they must join with the cities in regional planning units and endeavour to work out a co-ordinated plan for urban development.
The cities have shown that they cannot control “urban sprawl”. The rural municipalities cannot afford the cost of urban sprawl. The nation cannot afford the loss of agricultural land. Therefore, the rural people must start co-operating more closely with their city cousins in order to combat the ravages of unorderly urban sprawl.
Such a course requires a change in the sociological attitude of rural people. Rural and urban people must see themselves as citizens of one community, planning together to solve mutual problems.
There are other things which rural people must do if they wish to save themselves from extinction. In view of narrower profit margins, farmers must increase the size of their farms to make them more efficient and farmers must become more efficient managers and businessmen. Otherwise, they will find themselves taken over by big business corporations, losing their managerial status and becoming mere labourers for city companies.
Farmers must take advantage of the growing domestic market by organizing their marketing programs. Up until now the farmer has been too independent, refusing to join in a common marketing plan until his back is to the wall. The time to do it is now, while there is still room to maneuver.
By joining politically with the cities, by co-operating in regional planning, by being more business-like in their farming operations, and by organizing their marketing efforts, rural agricultural people are not going to change the trend, but they may help to control it instead of being controlled by it.
I know, coming from a farm community, that changing the attitudes of rural people is not easy, but that will be the task in the years ahead.
By Dr. Ralph R. Krueger, Chairman, Dept. of Geography, Waterloo University College